Mass. House Votes To Limit Union Bargaining Rights

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Unions are not happy with a compromise reached late Tuesday night in the House that will allow cities and towns to alter employee health insurance plans with limited input from municipal employee unions.

The compromise passed by a vote of 111-42. It was aimed at short circuiting a union-backed amendment that would have required communities collectively bargain with unions before implementing any health plan changes.

The lawmakers' approval is not sitting well with unions. Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Robert Haynes said he's saddened House members would take collective bargaining away from firefighters, police officers and teachers.

"We're willing to give the savings, all we wanted to do was protect the retirees and the sickest among us. And all we wanted was a closure mechanism," Haynes said. "All we wanted was an arbitrator, some kind of neutral process that would determine what's fair, and what was appropriate."

Under the compromise, unions and the communities would be required to discuss any changes during a 30-day period before adjusting a health plan, but ultimately the community has the final say on features such as premium and deductible splits.

Geoff Beckwith, of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, is pleased with the provision, saying it's a strong and powerful vote for reform.

"This legislation provides a role and a voice for municipal employees, but also allows municipalities, cities and towns to move forward, and save substantial amounts of money on health insurance, and make sure that those funds can be used to protect the very services the taxpayers of the commonwealth receive. And also to protect jobs," Beckwith said.

Beckwith said under the proposal, municipal workers would have more say over plan design than state workers do.

After the vote, House Speaker Robert DeLeo issued a statement applauding the members for the action he said will save cities and towns $100 million a year. Meanwhile, the unions are now set to bring their fight across the hall, when the Senate begins its budget debate sometime next month.

On Tuesday lawmakers also adopted an amendment to bar welfare recipients from using their state-issued electronic benefits cards to buy alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.

And the House approved a second amendment that would repeal a law requiring medical companies to disclose to state regulators all gifts over $50 given to doctors while banning other kinds of gifts outright.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

This program aired on April 27, 2011.

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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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